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BYU sexual-assault victims, alumni upset with Title IX, advocate choices

First Published      Last Updated Jan 18 2017 09:09 am

Jobs given to pair of internal applicants raise “grave concerns” among alumni and assault victims.

When Hailey Allen heard last week that Tiffany Turley was named Brigham Young University's new Title IX coordinator, she began to sob.

Her anxiety skyrocketed, she said, and the post-traumatic stress disorder she said she suffers as a result of being raped as a student at the university was triggered.

"I felt they had lied to us," Allen said. "Given us hope that they would change their ways and then didn't."

Allen and about 30 other alumni and sexual assault victims are concerned that Turley and Lisa Leavitt, selected to serve as a full-time advocate for sexual assault victims, do not have the experience and outlook the jobs require.

They have written to university President Kevin Worthen to express "grave concern," asking that the women undergo Title IX and other specific training, work with outside experts and face evaluations by an internal advisory council.

On Tuesday, BYU defended its decisions and announced the hiring of a deputy Title IX coordinator, Marcus Williams, who previously worked for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. He starts Jan. 23.

Williams "is well-trained in responding to sexual assault issues," said Carri Jenkins, university spokeswoman. "The Department of Defense has made multiple changes to adopt a trauma-informed and victim-centered approach to sexual assault investigations."

Under Title IX, a federal law that bars sex discrimination on campus, universities must swiftly respond to and resolve complaints of sexual violence and provide services to potential student victims.

Before being named the new Title IX coordinator, Turley was manager of the university's Women's Services and Resources. Leavitt worked as a psychologist in the university's student counseling center.

The alumni and sexual assault victims criticize the decision to fill both the coordinator and victim advocate jobs with internal candidates, when the school's "policies and practices failed to support victims of sexual crimes," their letter states.

"Hiring from within is not only a missed opportunity to bring in new ideas and attitudes that could affect real change at BYU, it also runs the risk that said persons will be seen by survivors as being loyal to the university's interests rather than to the victims they serve," the letter said.

The new hires are part of BYU's recent overhaul of how it handles reports of sexual assault.

The university drew scrutiny in April, when then-student Madi Barney called for BYU to grant amnesty to students who report sexual assault and stop investigating them for Honor Code violations.

In October, BYU announced it planned to follow 23 recommendations put forth by an internal advisory council, which last year studied the school's sexual assault response.

Granting amnesty to victims who disclose Honor Code violations at or near the time of an alleged assault was one of the recommendations. The university has not yet added it to its policy, but says it has adopted that practice.

Other changes recommended in October include creating a new physical space to separate the Title IX and Honor Code offices, which BYU already has done. And Turley will report to a vice president — previous Title IX coordinators reported to the dean of students, who also oversees the Honor Code Office.

The group members are "thankful," they wrote, that the university is moving forward with the recommendations.

But they are worried that both Leavitt and Turley have never served in similar positions before.

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